Rock Indian Band’s Ashley Nurmela received the Advocacy and Activism Award at the 12th Annual Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Youth Achievement and Recognition Awards on May 5.

Rock Indian Band’s Ashley Nurmela received the Advocacy and Activism Award at the 12th Annual Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Youth Achievement and Recognition Awards on May 5.

Pays Plat's Travis Jordan, far left  and Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek's Winonah Thompson, far right, were among six recipients of the Sandra Kakeeway Cultural Award at the 12th Annual Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Youth Achievement and Recognition Awards on May 5.

Pays Plat’s Travis Jordan, far left and Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek’s Winonah Thompson, far right, were among six recipients of the Sandra Kakeeway Cultural Award at the 12th Annual Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Youth Achievement and Recognition Awards on May 5.

By Rick Garrick

Northern Superior Region youth Winonah Thompson, Travis Jordan and Meagan McCraw were among six Sandra Kakeeway Cultural Award recipients at the 12th Annual Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Youth Achievement and Recognition Awards.

“I was surprised and I was honoured at the same time,” says Thompson, a Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek citizen and Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute student. “I grew up learning the language, I grew up knowing different dialects, I grew up learning histories of different people from all over the continent.”

Thompson learned Anishinabemowin and different dialects of the language while her father was studying at Lakehead University’s Native Language Instructor’s Program. She participated in the program’s day camp while her father was studying.

“We learned different dialects, we learned Cree, Oji-Cree, Ojibwa,” Thompson says. “I was young then, but I was old enough to remember. And both of my grandmothers sometimes spoke Ojibwa, so I kind of picked up (the language) from them as well.”

Thompson also follows the Pow-Wow trail as a jingle dress dancer.

“I first started off as a fancy shawl dancer, but it wasn’t my cup of tea I guess,” Thompson says. “I started dancing jingle dress when I was about seven, so going on for about 11 years I’ve been dancing jingle dress.”

Thompson enjoys travelling to different Pow-Wows across Canada and the United States.

“It just makes me feel connected with everything and everyone,” Thompson says. “It’s something that I am very passionate about.”

Jordan, a Pays Plat citizen and St. Patrick’s High School student, was recognized for his dedication to learning and keeping his language alive and preserving his way of life and traditions.

“It feels good to get the recognition,” Jordan says. “I kind of try to keep the traditions alive. I like to keep it more original to how it was before instead of going away from what it was, which is what some people are doing.”

Jordan began his journey about four years ago after experiencing a dream where his grandfather encouraged him to preserve the traditions.

“At first it was just an interest, but now it is more of just living,” Jordan says. “I sing quite a bit of older songs that not a lot of people know ever existed. So that is one thing I have been recognized for.”

McCraw, a Biigtgong Nishnaabeg citizen and Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute student, was recognized for her contributions as chair of the Churchill Aboriginal Advisory Committee. McCraw encouraged her school to place cedar above doorways, to hold traditional tea tasting events and to feature more Aboriginal guest speakers.

Red Rock Indian Band’s Ashley Nurmela also received the Advocacy and Activism Award during the May 5 awards ceremony for the Stand Up anti-racism campaign she ran at Confederation College over offensive and racist posts on social media.

“I’m very humbled by it,” says the second-year Confederation College Native Child and Family Services student. “I didn’t realize that it had made such a big impact on so many people so far and wide, not just in our community of Thunder Bay but in the region.”

Nurmela plans to continue running the Stand Up campaign after she graduates from the Native Child and Family Services program this year.

“I firmly believe that people are people and that we should all be respectful to each other,” Nurmela says.

Other Northern Superior Region award recipients included Long Lake #58’s Demi Abraham and Tamara Goupil; Fort William’s Mason Oshkopekeda and Anne Marie Demerah; and Red Rock Indian Band’s Kimberly Kennedy.